Elder Issues: Family Meetings and Mediation


Previously, I discussed how mediators help families settle disputes concerning estates or trusts and end of life issues. This article focuses on how mediation can help keep families from going through expensive and often destructive litigation. Family meetings can be a useful tool for finding common ground when there are disputes over care of elders, and other end of life issues. In August 2016, the book Mediation for Estate Planners: Managing Family Conflict was released by the American Bar Association. I wrote the chapter “A Mediator’s Perspective: Situations Mediators May Face”. This blog series features some of the salient points in this book.

Difficult Issues Families Face as Population Ages

According to a Gallup survey in 2016, only 44 percent of all American adults have a legal will or other estate planning documents.  While these documents don’t guarantee that there will be no family conflicts, they serve as a foundation for carrying out the wishes and preferences of your loved ones. For instance, a spouse with an ill partner may disagree with his or her adult children about the best decision to make on behalf of their beloved mate concerning life support. Bioethics mediation is a specific subfield of mediation in which a mediator will assist in resolving disputes between family members during end of life care decisions. A common situation which arises in these cases is that one person is not ready to let their loved one move on and make the decision that would allow them to pass in a peaceful manner, whereas the person holding the power of attorney is attempting to fulfill the wishes of their loved one. It’s difficult for both family members. A mediator can help them have this difficult conversation.

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Mindfulness and Mediation

thoughts; head; mind; minfulness; mediation

The term “mindfulness” has become a buzzword in the business world. Multiple studies and articles have been published which examine mindfulness, how to practice it, and what the benefits are. Mindfulness is that moment-by-moment awareness of your surroundings, thoughts, and feelings, or a sense of presence and acceptance.

Mindfulness is often referred to as the practice of being present: living in the moment without projecting yourself constantly into the future, the past, or elsewhere. In the digital age, we are encouraged to respond constantly to stimuli that remove us from our immediate surroundings.

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Thumb Wars, Part 2: Messaging is Terrible for Arguments

text messaging; online messaging; arguments

Texting, online messaging, and other similar forms of communication have grown exponentially in recent years. While messaging apps and text messages may bring some people closer together and lead to more frequent communication, they are devoid of communication clues, such as verbal inflections, body language and tone of voice, that help give context to our statements. This kind of communication is one-dimensional and rigid. Misunderstandings and miscommunication are far more likely to occur than in face-to-face or phone conversations. This article discusses the growth of conflict with the rise in messaging as a major form of communication.

Text Message Explosion

In a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, 72% of American adults owned smartphones. Of those surveyed in the study, 42% of smartphone users utilized a general messaging app to send or receive messages. In April of 2017, Facebook’s Messenger app surpassed 1.2 billion monthly users worldwide. That is a phenomenal amount of typed or texted messages whirling around cyberspace. In addition, according to The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, text message users send and receive 41.5 messages per day on average, with 18- to 24-year-olds at a much higher average of 109.5 messages per day – that’s 3,200 texts per month! Roughly 31% of participants in Pew’s survey prefer to communicate via text rather than to be called on the phone. This medium has become a staple of everyday communication, and it is only natural that conflict and disagreements would creep into the texting world.

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The Trouble with Bubbles

This month I’m delighted to feature a guest article from my longtime colleague, Carolyn Parr. Carolyn has graciously agreed to let us post her newsletter article here. To learn more about Carolyn, click here.

These days we hear a lot about people living in ‘bubbles.’ In mediation I often encounter parties whose positions are encased in a bubble, reinforced by an interior monologue that strengthens their conviction that they are right and the opposing party is wrong. In time it’s possible to pierce these bubbles and engage in conversations about mutual concerns and interests they share with the other party.

In politics, bubbles have taken a more sinister significance. Living just 12 blocks from the U.S. Capitol, I’m sure many think I not only live in a bubble, but in ‘The Swamp’ as well.

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End of Life Issues: How Mediators Help Families Settle Disputes

A brother sued his sister over the accounting of assets when the sister held the power of attorney for their mother as her health was failing. After a four-hour mediation, the case was settled and the siblings were on speaking terms again. Sound familiar?  Similar situation in your family?  Mediation is more frequently being used for disputes about estates, trusts, and other end-of-life issues. This article is the first in a series that will focus on how mediation can help keep families from going through an expensive and challenging litigation process for such emotionally charged issues.  We will also review situations where litigation may be the best alternative. In August 2016, the book Mediation for Estate Planners: Managing Family Conflict was released by the American Bar Association. I wrote the chapter “A Mediator’s Perspective: Situations Mediators May Face”. This blog series will feature some of the salient points in this book.

Why Do Estates Become Contested?

Estate and trust disputes are as varied as the families who are involved in them. These situations are extremely emotionally charged, as the dispute may involve disinherited children, sibling rivalries, contentious relationships, or blended families with second or third marriages. Another situation that is becoming increasingly common and often the cause of disputes is when an adult child or other family member becomes the caregiver for a parent and takes over responsibility for the parent’s finances.

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Nonviolent and Non-Defensive Communication

talking; communication

The heart of many of the conflicts I mediate is often hurt feelings over critical, blameful, and insensitive communication. So I thought it was important to revisit the core concepts behind nonviolent or non-defensive communication which I’ve written about in the past. Much more than just an abstract notion, nonviolent communication is a core concept couched in a strong theoretical base. Not only is it a powerful tool in mediation or formal conflict resolution, it is a holistic process and a lens through which an individual can come to see all relations and communication.

What is Nonviolent or Non-Defensive Communication?

What is widely recognized today as the core theory of nonviolent communication (NVC) was spearheaded by psychologist and PhD. Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s. With questions about communication and violence originating from childhood run-ins with anti-Semitism and violent race relations in Detroit, Rosenberg began to develop his model during his activities in the civil rights movement. He sought to better understand how entrenched patterns of communication kept people from expressing their needs to one another without violent escalation, and how he and others could develop the ability to surpass those patterns.

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Masking the Issue: Displaced Conflict

displaced conflict; argument

Have you ever become very angry at someone who is helping you and then realized that the source of the conflict was something else entirely? This is an example of displaced conflict. The anger had nothing to do with the transaction or the customer service agent, and everything to do with another situation, perhaps one that is causing you stress or anxiety, which resulted in your lashing out at the wrong party.

Stress and Conflict

Hyperstress happens when too many tasks and responsibilities pile up and we are unable to adapt or cope with these changes. In hyperstress, the source is identifiable, such as too many competing deadlines at work and home. Hyperstress causes physical and chemical reactions in the body. If the stress is not alleviated, exhaustion sets in.

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Professional Facilitators Save Time and Money


Organizations invest a lot of time and money when they get away from the office for a day or two to focus on long term planning or other crucial needs.  You want to make sure this event is successful and a neutral facilitator will do that.  Many factors are involved in a successful facilitation.  This article will help managers and purchasing agents think through these factors and their needs when searching for a professional facilitator for a retreat, team meeting or group conflict.

How can a neutral facilitator help your organization?

Organizations use facilitators for team building, board meetings, group conflict and strategic planning meetings.  This is a sample of the types of engagements that Alternative Resolutions has assisted with.  A neutral professional facilitator can help an organization make sure they get the most out of the planned event.

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Destructive Conflict Patterns

Destructive conflict

According to Ruth Abigail and Dudley Cahn in Managing Conflict Through Communication (MA Pearson Education, 2011), a process view of conflict sees the conflict as a dynamic and changeable and moving through various stages. Dysfunctional conflict is generally not successfully resolved. In destructive conflict, people get stuck in one phase, while successfully resolved conflict moves through the five distinct steps or phases. Sometimes conflicts become scripted behavior and people get trapped into responding in their habitual way to a particular set of circumstances or individuals.

Two Primary Destructive Conflict Cycles

Confrontation Avoidance Cycle. This cycle occurs with people whose first impulse is to avoid initiating conflict. They think of conflict as bad, get nervous about the conflict experience, and avoid it as long as possible. When the conflict gets out of control, that individual handles it poorly. In this cycle, there is a prelude and a triggering event but the conflict doesn’t proceed to initiation. An example of a prelude is a past history of poorly managed conflict. A triggering event may occur when one person forgets an appointment or says something hurtful.

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Your Brain on Conflict

the brain; credit: A Health Blog, from Flickr, labeled for reuse


This month I’m delighted to feature a guest article by my colleague and friend Gloria K. Vanderhorst, Ph.D.  I asked Gloria to write a piece about what happens in our brains when we experience conflict.

Your Brain on Conflict

You are heading for a mediation session about a workplace issue and you know it will be tense. Your heart is racing a bit and you take some deep breaths to calm your nerves and prepare to stay in control. The outcome of this mediation is important to you and you do not want to lose control.  Then you walk into the conference room and see your nemesis. Somewhere inside a switch is flipped and your fury is about to burst into the room.[1]

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